Judge tosses lawsuit against county executive

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A judge has dismissed the civil lawsuits brought against Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr., his then-chief of staff Al Candido, and a radio station brought by David Gordon, who challenged Picente in a Republican primary last year.

Gordon had accused Picente of using county funds to support an extramarital affair, then sued Picente and the others of slandering him over publication of a police complaint in which Gordon was named. The matter against Gordon was later dismissed.

State Supreme Court Justice Scott DelConte dismissed the cases against Picente, Al Candido, and WIBX radio and host Bill Keeler in an order dated Thursday.

DelConte ruled that Picente’s statements in a May 15 press conference responding to Gordon’s press conference earlier that day were constitutionally protected speech because they consisted of an accurate account of Gordon’s police record, a denial of Gordon’s accusations, and a personal opinion and rhetorical hyperbole relating to Gordon. DelConte further cited state case law holding that statements by public officials during official duties are protected from civil suits.

DelConte ruled that there was no evidence of actual conspiracy by publicly revealing contents of a dismissed criminal complaint as Gordon alleged. The judge ruled that WIBX and Keeler were not liable because they accurately reported on accusations made in an August 2017 complaint filed when Gordon’s then-fiancee called Utica police and made a domestic violence accusation; the charges were later dismissed. An accurate report of a public record is protected, DelConte noted.

Gordon said in his initial civil-suit complaint that he broke a mobile phone in anger but did not assault his fiancee, who then did not press the matter.

After Gordon lost the June primary, he said he would move out of the area, and he has an address in Bluffton, South Carolina, according to records in the case. Picente won re-election in the fall. Candido has since retired as Picente’s chief of staff.

A related defamation suit brought against Gordon by the woman Gordon claimed had the affair with Picente is in the discovery, or evidence-gathering, process, according to court records.

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